The Philadelphia Museum of Art — flanked by some more organic artistic statements

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In a world full of bougie tourist guides and destination TikTok suggestions, it’s easy to forget there’s tons to explore in Philadelphia’s without spending too much cash.

Whether you’re visiting the city or a resident who wants to see more sights, there’s plenty to do at a discount — too much to include in one guide. But we took stock of what’s available right now, and collected some of the best options.

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From appreciating world renowned paintings or unique local creations, to finding new discoveries at the city’s historical institutions, to simply enjoying nature amid the metropolis, here’s a summary of some great options for experiencing Philly’s arts, nature, and history without hurting your wallet.

Artistic offerings

If you’re seeking the classic art museum experience, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation are both marquee destinations.

The Art Museum has pay-what-you-wish admission on the first Sunday of every month, making it a great way to cap off a weekend, supporting art without having to pay the standard adult fare of $25. You could also start your weekend there, because it’s pay what you wish after 5 p.m. every Friday, with musical performances and drinks served in the Great Stair Hall (aka the interior continuation of the Rocky steps). And if you’re under 18? Free every day.

The Barnes Foundation’s prices are much more static, but — shoutout to the educators — if you teach K-12 in Philadelphia, you can get in for free on Sundays. If you’re an ACCESS or EBT cardholder, the Barnes is always free. Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled for free programming, which happens regularly, most steadily including the Free First Sunday Family programs run with support from PECO.

Outside of the museum setting, First Fridays are a staple in Old City, a major hub for the city’s smaller galleries, going on 30 years. As the name suggests, the first Friday of each month is a day when galleries throw open their doors, and visitors are treated to an open house along the corridor of artistic institutions. Musicians and various vendors have gotten in on the act as well, rounding out the experience.

Plus, First Friday has expanded to other parts of the city, including Fairmount, Northern Liberties, and Fishtown.

Get even more adventurous, with the first edition of Artseeing, the new self-directed tour guide from independent arts publication Streets Dept. Available for $35 (closer to $40 with shipping and tax) and curated by the site’s Conrad Benner and Eric Dale, the book provides an intro to the murals that cover the city, along with public parks and the curators’ favorite spots to eat. If you want to see the breadth of public art in Philly — a lot of it created thanks to the vaunted Mural Arts Program — this is a great way to start.

‘The Healing Power of Music’ by Parris Stancell Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Exploring nature

The quintessential free activity is a day at the park, and Philadelphia doesn’t disappoint, with tons of green space that sometimes includes curated options.

Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philly, considered the oldest surviving botanical garden in the nation, is a learning and horticultural center on the banks of the Schuylkill River. Its 50 acres are open to the public every day from morning until 4 p.m. You can walk along a trail, visit the gardens, get schooled on local wildlife, and learn about the history of the site.

Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is at the far southwestern edge of Philadelphia, right next to the airport, but it’s worth the trek. Established to preserve the Tinicum Marsh, the refuge is federally protected as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. From the many trails in the area to fishing, paddling, and archery there is no shortage of activities, with plenty of wildlife to view. The best way to keep up with the occasional free programming is through Facebook.

On the northwestern side of the city, Awbury Arboretum in Germantown may fit the bill. Always free to visitors, the 56 acres of undeveloped space is the largest of its kind in its section of the city. With a calendar dotted with programs, there’s plenty for nature lovers.

Of course, there’s the Leviathan Fairmount Park, truly sprawling in nature with too many notable spots to list and plenty of programming.

There are so many more parks to explore, so once the options above are crossed off your checklist, don’t stop there.

Glendinning Rock Garden in Fairmount Park Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

Philadelphia Pass possibilities

If you’re looking to explore Philly history and get beyond the bus tours, Go City’s Philadelphia Pass is a bundle deal that offers one price for a variety of locations. An obvious option for tourists, the pass is underrated for residents who want to speedrun a few destinations you’ve been meaning to visit.

A one-day all-Inclusive pass is $52 for adults and $32 for children ages 3-12. That gets you admission to:

  • Eastern State Penitentiary
  • Franklin Institute
  • Philadelphia Zoo
  • Academy of Natural Science
  • Museum of the American Revolution
  • National Constitution Center
  • Rodin Museum
  • African American Museum in Philadelphia
  • Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History
  • Adventure Aquarium in Camden

That’s not even half of the destinations on offer, but with many of these sites within walking distance of each other — the cluster of Old City museums, for instance — and many more easy to reach with public transit, the ambitious passholder could visit a half-dozen locations in a day, making the bundle a definite bargain.

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Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...